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Sermon for Holy Thursday

April 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2011

29 Sermon for Holy Thursday mp3 audio

The Letter to Laodicea:

Complacency—Death by Indifference

Amos 6:1–7; Revelation 3:14–22; John 15:9–17

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ” [1]

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Throughout Lent, we’ve been listening to the Words of Jesus in the Letters to the Seven Churches.  Tonight we’ve come to the final letter to the Christians in Laodicea.  I’ve been working front the standpoint that these letters weren’t just written to Christians long ago and far away but that each of these letters is relevant to the Church as a whole and to individual Christians today.  This letter is the harshest warning of them all.  The Lord does not mince words with Christians in Laodicea, He is disgusted with them.  Most translations read as our does.  “16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”  But that barely comes close to the meaning of the Greek.  Jesus is nauseated to the point of vomiting on account of them.  This is a strong picture of the Lord’s displeasure.  Why is Jesus so upset?  We need to look closely at this letter and listen to what the Lord has to day.

The wider community of Laodicea was thriving because they sat at the intersection of several major trade routes in Asia Minor. Laodicea was the provincial capital. The black wool from the sheep and the woven garments made from it were widely sought after. They had a famous medical school, as well as a temple to the god of healing.  Ointments for curing diseases of the eyes and ears were made in Laodicea.  The worship of the Emperor of Rome was popular in the city.  All in all, Laodicea was prosperous, educated, religious, and important—no wonder so many people wanted to live in Laodicea.

The congregation at Laodicea was not afflicted with the moral and doctrinal troubles of their sister congregations.  They couldn’t be fairly described as idolatrous or immoral or tempted to compromise the Christian faith.  In fact, a visitor to the congregation there might have said, “What a lovely congregation and what nice people.  How peaceful things seem and how blessed this congregation is.” Even the name of the city, Laodicea, implied that they were a “people of righteousness.”

There was but one problem, one deadly flaw.  They were so satisfied that they had no true need for Christ.  Jesus is everything, yet to them, Christ was just not needed.  Jesus is the “Amen,” the only truth, the only certainty, yet their certainty lay within themselves and the economic prosperity of their city.  Jesus is the faithful and true witness, the martyr.  He died to save them from every evil and give them His righteousness, and yet they thought they were pretty good witnesses too when it came right down to it.  Christ is the source of all creation, without whom nothing would exist, and yet they had the gall to pat themselves on the back and say, “We did it all ourselves.”  The community was so rich that after an earthquake in 60 AD, not too long before this letter was written, and Rome offered to rebuild the city, the Laodiceans, said, “No thanks, we’ll rebuild it ourselves.”  They smile smugly at their good fortune and say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing” (Revelation 3:17). And they wonder why Jesus is about to throw up!  They neither love Him nor despise Him; they neither call on Him nor send Him away.

The Christians in Laodicea remind me of the rich farmer in Jesus’ parable.  His ground produced such a huge crop that he had no place to store it.  So he pulled down his old barns and built bigger ones, telling himself, “I have plenty of good things laid up for many years.  I’ll take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). But God said to him, “You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you” (Luke 12:20).  The farmer went to bed complacent, satisfied, selfish.  He woke up damned to hell.

Of all the temptations to modern American Christians today, this letter may be the most applicable.  The kind of Christianity that Jesus is condemning is the “God helps them that help themselves,” variety so popular today.  We are the wealthiest people the world has ever known.  Even our poor people have cars and flat panel televisions.  Because our doctors can work miracles—make eye glasses and contact lenses and replace cataracts and even restore sight to some blind people—we think we can see.  Because we have closets full of clothes we think we are well-clothed.  And yet so often we cannot see our poverty and our blindness and our nakedness and shame.  We don’t realize that we are far poorer than we think.  Those things of which we boast about now are but a passing illusion of well-being they could be gone tomorrow and they will be gone one day.  This letter is a call to repentance, a call to return to Jesus in humility and faith, a call to see the poverty of our heart, the dim blindness of our spirit and the naked shamefulness of our sins.

Christ’s words to the Christians in Laodicea are Christ’s words to us.  They are difficult to hear and accept but they are spoken in love.  The Lord Jesus says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline” (Revelation 3:19).  If He did not love you, He would not have died for you.  If He did not love you, He would not have sent missionaries and pastors to share His Gospel with you.  If He did not love you, He would not have made you His children in Holy Baptism. If He did not love you, He would not care a whit about the danger you face.  But Jesus does care.  Jesus loves you. He died for you. This is His church.  He says to you, His blood-bought people, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).

Tonight is Maundy Thursday, the night Jesus instituted took the Passover and fulfilled it and changed it into His Supper and invited us to His table.  Tonight Jesus is knocking again.  He is inviting you to eat supper with Him.  In moments we will be celebrating His Holy Supper.  He will once again invite us to eat the bread given and the wine pour poured out.  We’ll hear again the words of His last will and testament, “This is My body” and “This is My blood,” “given” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  By eating and drinking He dwells in us and us in Him.  Here we find the forgiveness of sins, including our sins of indifference and laziness, of blindness and all manner of shamefulness.  Now, before the Holy Meal, is the time to remember Christ who has always committed Himself to you.  As St. Paul tells you, now, before you eat of the bread and drink of the cup, is the time for self-examination.

Today Jesus calls you to admit again to yourself and to God your sin and helplessness.  There is a direct connection between the daily bread of our tables and the bread that bears the body of our Lord from His table to our mouths.  We eat daily because we need to.  There is a curious thing that happens when people fast for more than two or three days.  The hunger pangs actually go away and the appetite fades away, so I’m told.  I’m absolutely convinced the same thing happens with people who abstain for so long from the Lord’s Supper.  So many come for a  while and then don’t come, thinking they can get along just as well without it.  To them, the earnest invitation of the Lord to eat and drink doesn’t matter.  Dr. Luther in his day lamented the same thing.  He wrote in his Large Catechism,

“We see that people seem weary and lazy about receiving the Sacrament… They act as though there were such strong Christians that they have no need of it.  Some pretend it is a matter of liberty and not necessary.  They pretend it is enough to believe without it.  For the most part, they go so far astray that they become quite brutish and finally despise both the Sacrament and God’s Word.” (LC, V 39ff)

Dear Christian friends, let us repent and return to Jesus, recognizing that no good thing, despite all the trappings of success, even in the life of faith, dwells in us.  Repentance means that we acknowledge that all we have and are comes not of our own effort but from God.  We must repent of our lukewarm faith.  As we do, the Holy Spirit, will set a fire within us, moving us to bold acts that confess God’s love for us, reflecting our love for God, and pouring out God’s love and the Gospel on our neighbors.

When we repent, we lose nothing but our pride and our sin and guilt.  In their place will be a peace of mind and heart as fresh as a spring morning after the rain.  Jesus, the only certainty, Jesus, the source of all creation, has come to meet our needs with real treasure. Through His victory over Satan, Jesus has won for us the golden streets of heaven. Through His blood spilled at Calvary, Jesus has won for us the white garments of His righteousness that covers the shame of our nakedness. Through His Holy Spirit, Jesus has taken away the blindness of our spirit, enabling us to see His glory, glory that makes all else pale in comparison.  In repentance, we will gain precious promises from Jesus: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21).  But we will have nothing to boast about because the victory that gains the throne of heaven has been won for us by Jesus and becomes ours by faith.  Let us not delay!

So what ever became of the church in Laodicea?  Some of them heeded our Lord’s call. Two-and-a-half centuries after this letter, their church was still there and moderately important in the Christian world.  They had their own bishop.  Fifty years after Christianity was no longer an illegal religion in the Roman Empire, a regional church council met there in 363 and 364 AD.  They published a document called “The Canons of Laodicea.” In its sixty chapters, they made pronouncements about various heresies, when to celebrate Easter, the proper form of the liturgy, and, interestingly, how to observe Lent.  They even listed of all the documents they thought should be read in the churches.  Guess which one didn’t make the cut?  The Book of Revelation and its Letter to Laodicea.

And we have returned to the original temptation.  Did God really say…?  Is that how it is with us?  We would rather debate whether God has really said what is recorded in this book?  May it never be.  Let us repent and return to the Lord our God for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have supper with him, and he with me.”  Aren’t you hungy?  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


[1] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Re 3:14–22). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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Sermon for Palm (Passion) Sunday

April 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2011

28 Sermon for Palm Sunday mp3 audio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Palm Sunday is not quite the best name for today, at least not anymore.  Some call it Passion Sunday now and that’s probably more accurate.  Those of you who grew up in the church you always knew it as Palm Sunday but really all that’s left of Palm Sunday is the first part of the service with the procession into church with palm branches and up to the silence we observed.  The rest of the service today is Passion Sunday.  What changed?  Well, in some ways we could say it’s the new hymnal or the committee that put it together that changed.  They decided to put more of an emphasis on the Passion of Jesus.  Why do you reckon they thought they needed to do that?  Because, quite frankly, most Christians don’t observe Holy Week, that is they don’t attend Holy Week Services.  And so if we still did it the old way, many would miss the main point of Christianity, the suffering and death and the resurrection of Jesus.  If we miss Holy Week services, we weren’t there when they crucified the Lord.  (It must be a strange experience for those who came to Palm Sunday and then show up again on Easter wondering how the One who entered Jerusalem on a donkey to shouts of Hosanna to the Son of David, could have ended up murdered, buried and raised all in the course of a week.)  It is telling about who we are as Christians today when the most important week of the Church Year has to be truncated and made to fit on Sunday morning.  It is telling about who we are as Christians today when the most important week for our lives is considered just “too much church.”  The hymnal committee’s change merely reflects how much we’ve changed.

Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, as a hero of the people.  They are shouting to Him, “Hosanna.”  They’re shouting, “Lord, save us.”  Some might think they’re just shouting out to God in heaven, except that doesn’t make quite that much sense when they follow up their “Hosannas!” with, “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!” and “Hosanna to the Son of David!”  No, they’re shouting at Jesus.  “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee,” they say. (Mt 21:11)  The Gospel we heard outside says the crowd is following Jesus because He raised Lazarus.

Matthew is diligent in recording the Pharisees’ rising hatred for Jesus throughout the week.  The same day Jesus entered Jerusalem, He went and drove out all the money changers in the temple.  “But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were furious with Jesus. (Mt 21:15–16)  The next day as Jesus was teaching in the temple, they approached him and asked by what authority He said what He said and did what He did.  Jesus instead asked them where John’s baptism came from, whether by heaven or by man.  They refused to answer because it was a no win situation for them.  Jesus egged them on by telling a parable about a man with two sons.  Then Jesus plainly tells them.  “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” (Mt 21:31-32)  After the parable of the wicked tenants and the parable of the wedding banquet, the Pharisees realize Jesus is teaching against them.  From this point on they seek a way to destroy Jesus.  They simply cannot bend their stubborn will and their selfish pride to the truth of what Jesus has said about them.

And probably still on Monday while teaching in the temple couryards, like an OT prophet Jesus delivers seven woes against the Pharisees; it’s the better part of chapter 23.  Here are the highlights.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”  The next one is strange to our ears but it has to do with making oaths.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”  Six was bad enough but number seven is a doozy.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.

“Jesus criticized the Pharisees’ for their hypocrisy and stiff necked obstinacy.  I know what you’re thinking right about now.  You’re thinking you’re glad you’re not a Pharisee.  Are you sure about that?  Is your life a roadblock to the kingdom of heaven?  Do you refuse to enter the kingdom and refuse to let anyone else enter either?  Woe to you.  Have you worked hard to make a convert and then dumped on them a whole set of laws and expectations that are human and not God’s?  Woe to you.  Do you create little ways around God’s laws that don’t technically count as adultery or swearing by God’s name?  Woe to you.  Are you so meticulous about one area of God’s law that you neglect fairness and mercy to people who don’t measure up to your standard you’ve created for your particular hobbyhorse?  Woe to you.  Do you get all dressed up to come to church and yet inside you’re filled with envy, jealousy, anger and every kind of unrepented evil?  Woe to you.  Do you act like a saint when really you’re hoping no one finds out you’re a total fraud?  Woe to you.  Do you really think that you’re so much more faithful than the Jews who cried out for Jesus to be crucified?  Woe to you.  You know what the people out there say about us.  They say we’re a bunch of hypocrites; they say we’re like the Pharisees.  When they say it, we don’t pay attention.  When Jesus says it we should pay close attention.  “Jesus criticized the Pharisees’ for their hypocrisy and stiff necked obstinacy.

Of all the charges that will be laid against God’s people on Judgment Day, none is more damning than the accusation that they despised God’s Word.  Even Jesus’ harshest denunciations are motivated by His sincere desire that people turn from sin and death and receive the gift of eternal life.  Holy Week is the most solemn part of Lent.  It is meant to be kept, observed.  Certainly not because, by observing Holy Week, it makes us good Christians, that would make us Pharisees.  Rather we observe it because we seek to hear again in great detail all that Jesus suffered for us as He came to bring the kingdom of God to us.  Holy Week is about hearing what happened during the week, almost in real time as the week progressed.  In this way we become a participant in the story of Jesus’ Passion.  Like we heard in the collect for today, that we may be made partakers of the resurrection.  We become the disciples who run away in fear.  We become those who today wave palms and shout Hosannas to the Son of David and, by the end of the week, we have become those who cry out in bloodthirst, “Crucify Him!”  We observe Holy Week because we don’t want to become like the Pharisees; despisers of God’s Word.

Holy Week is our opportunity to be changed from our selfish and cynical selves and to repent and hear again the Word of God for us, that Jesus came to die for even those who despised Him and called for His death.  Jesus the Son of David, the Son of God, triumphantly entering Jerusalem knows precisely what He’s doing here.  He knows He rides to His cross because by doing so, He comes to bring us and all believers into the kingdom of God.  And so in hearing God’s Word this week we become the disciples who are fed the body and blood of Jesus given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.  We become those who follow after Jesus bearing the cross.  We become the centurion seeing how Jesus died and become ever more convinced that He was truly the Son of God.  We become the disciples who race to the tomb early in the morning and our old hearts still race little when we hear the angels say, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.”  We become disciples again by hearing again the truth of Jesus suffering because He suffered for us.  God bless you this Holy Week.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized

Lent 5 – Morning Prayer

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Note: parts of this sermon were adapted from Revelation for Lent, published by CPH in 2006.

The Letter to Philadelphia:  Neglect—Locked Out in Death’s Night

Isaiah 60:3–11; Revelation 3:7–13; Matthew 28:16–20

27 Sermon for Lent 5 – Morning Prayer mp3 audio

Theme Verse

I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. (Revelation 3:9)

 

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Quite a bit of Christian preaching sounds like preaching to the choir.  After all, presumably the people in the pews are already the converted.  But preaching still is the delivery of the Gospel which is the key to heaven.  And so the church was established from the beginning by Jesus to be a place where the acts of Jesus on the cross in the place of sinners are proclaimed over and over again.  Jesus poured His Spirit out on them to do this very thing.  How else could it have been that eleven men went from hiding frightened behind locked doors to bold preachers in the course of about a month?  When Peter preached at Pentecost, thousands entered into God’s kingdom.  And the apostles continued on with the things that Jesus had given them to do.  They baptized.  They broke the bread and poured the wine and the body and blood of Christ forgave, quickened, and strengthened the souls of the faithful.  So it was among the Christians in Philadelphia.  As they heard and received the Good News, Jesus filled them to overflowing, hearts were opened among their neighbors, whom they loved, and they were moved to believe in Christ Jesus.

And so the angel does not bring a word of correction to the church in Philadelphia.  They had already had enough of that, suffering as they did through frequent earthquakes that occurred in that part of the world.  Much like our Lutheran brothers and sisters in Japan, those who lived in such a dangerous city needed reassurance of God’s continued love. And He did love them.  The Christians in Philadelphia were recognized for their faithfulness in the face of trial, temptation, and persecution.

They were examples of the faith.  Where others failed, the Christians in Philadelphia stood firm in the faith.  They continued to trust God’s Word and to believe in Jesus when it would have been so much easier to return to paganism or Judaism.  And they were sorely tempted.

The area around Philadelphia was a major wine-producing region. It would have been tempting to join in during the festivals for Dionysus, the wine god, his Roman incarnation you might be more familiar with, Bacchus.  We get the term bacchanalia from Bacchus.  The cult of Dionysus was a powerful influence throughout the ancient world but was very powerful in Philadelphia.  As tempted as the Christians in Philadelphia were, they were persecuted even more.  Sadly it was the Jews, not the pagans, who offered the strongest opposition to the faith—Jews who claimed to be the rightful heirs of Abraham and David.  They never ceased trying to have the Christians arrested on trumped up charges of disloyalty to Rome or practicing an illegal religion.  And yet Christ had come to the Jews first. He proclaimed the Good News of the kingdom to them.  He did many miracles to prove His divinity, but the Jews spurned Him.  They called for Jesus’ death.  Even after He rose from the dead, they refused to believe in Jesus.  Here is the extent of their neglect: The Jews despised their birthright. They abandoned faith for dead works.  So bitter and hateful has the antagonism from the Jews become that Jesus calls their synagogue a “synagogue of Satan.”  They claim to be the true Israel, but the Lord Jesus calls them liars and children of the prince of lies.  That describes anyone in any religion who would turn away—or turn you away—from the truth of Jesus to false teachings.  Woe to those who neglect the truth for error!

I don’t think John took any delight in recording this nor do I think John advocated turning the tables and persecuting the Jews.  They were what Jesus called a “synagogue of Satan” only because the devil had blinded them to the truth.  There is no excuse for the barbarity some in the name of Christianity have visited upon the Jews throughout History.  Christians should pray that the Jews and all unbelievers will repent of their unbelief and learn that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah for whom they yearn.  We should deal kindly with them so on the day of Christ’s return they may willingly, along with all true believers, acknowledge Jesus as Savior rather than unwillingly bow to Him as judge.

I’ve been working off the idea that these ancient letters to the Christian Churches in Asia Minor are still applicable to the Christian church today and even to our congregation.  I think there are many similarities with Augustana and our beloved Missouri Synod and the letter to the church in Philadelphia.  Unlike any synagogue or temple of Satan, our doctrine is pure.  Our faith is strong.  Oh that we could hear Jesus say that our love for God’s Word is unquestioned and that out morality is above reproach.  I think in many ways, as I indicated last week, we’re a little closer to the church in Laodicea than we are the church in Philadelphia.  Stay tuned.

Those of us who were born into the church, baptized as infants and raised in the church, have a unique challenge in the life of faith.  It’s hard for us to see ourselves as we once were, as slaves of sin, as living in guilt, having no hope because you were excluded from God’s people and His promises of grace.  There are some in the congregation, and I’m not trying to single anyone out by saying this, who did not grow up in the church.  They remember quite well the idols they once worshiped and the vain and temporary things of this world they once chased after.  In some ways, it is harder for us who have always believed, or so we think, to fully identify with the truth that we were once were as guilty of neglect of the truth as the unbelieving Jews and pagans.  And so for us it is harder to see the blessing of Jesus as the key who unlocked the gates of the kingdom of heaven for us.  We simply don’t remember a time when we didn’t know what Jesus had died and rose again for us, when we were baptized into Jesus.  But we do, in a way, by faith, because that old Adam is still close by.  It is the old Adam of ourselves we confess when we say we are poor miserable sinners, when we cry out to the Lord, “Lord, have mercy!”

We Lutherans use this phrase.  I’m pretty sure most other Christians do not and I wonder sometimes if we even remember what it means.  It is one of those uniquely Lutheran things that we talk about the old Adam, the old sinful self that seems to forever be not far from us.  St. Paul described that old self very well when he spoke of “the good that I want to do, this I don’t do, and the evil that I don’t want to, this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7)  Dr. Luther saw this as a key to understanding human nature, that as wicked as person could be in their heart, they could be declared not guilty on account of blood of Christ.  And as wonderfully strong as a person in the faith could be, they could still be flawed and broken.  The new self in Christ and the old self, the pagan, the unbeliever, one needing to be daily killed, drowned in the remembrance of baptism, one needing to be daily raised in faith and obedience to the Word of God.  The old self and the new self.  The old Adam and the new.

That old Adam in us is every bit as much a pagan as any who tempted the Christians in Philadelphia; the old Adam in us is every bit as much the unbelieving Jew as any who cried out that day in Pontius Pilate’s court, “Crucify Him! Let His blood be on us and on our children!  Crucify Him!”  That’s us calling for the death at Him who would be our Savior.  And yet, as St. Paul said, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”  (Ro 5:8–10) Sinners and enemies of God—that’s what we were and still are in the old Adam.  Those of us who can’t remember truly being outside the church, need to remember we aren’t nearly so saved that we don’t need to drown the old Adam in us, daily.  And yet, when we remember in faith all that God has done for us through Christ, all these treasures are opened through the key Christ has given to us.

Everyone, Jew and pagan, and converted Christian who still struggles against the old Adam in this life needs to hear of Jesus. The beloved apostle Paul has written: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:12–15).

“I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut,” the Lord Jesus says to you. “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept My word and have not denied My name” (Revelation 3:8). “What open door?” you ask. Open doors come in all shapes, sizes, and places. One open door is assisting missionaries with your offerings. “How can they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:15). And how can they be sent unless you give to support them? And there are other ways. You go to work or school or into the stores and doctors’ offices and homes of friends and neighbors nearly every day.  In almost every conversation, someone will mention a need. That need—a frustration, a family problem, a regret, a worry—is the door through which Christ can enter when you speak a gentle word of faith.  Needs exist all around you.  People are sick, lonesome, hungry, poor, illiterate, confused, abandoned, dying.  Every problem is an open door for Christ, whose love you can share with others by caring enough to help and caring enough to lift up their needs to our God in prayer.

I am certain that you will use the key.  To keep the word of Jesus and to confess Him is to proclaim Him.  That is who you are, people who stand up for Jesus no matter how terrifying the adversary.  You can do that, even in the face of persecution. “Hold on to what you have,” the Lord Jesus encourages you (Revelation 3:11). Let no one take your crown. God will help you.

How do I know?  Because God helped the Christian in Philadelphia who were no different than you.  Not long after they received this letter, great persecution and suffering came on them and ye they continued to bear up under this tribulation and be faithful.  Rome came down especially hard on the Christians in Philadelphia, persecution far worse than the struggles they had with unbelieving Jews in the synagogue.  But not long after than Diocletian’s persecution ended and Rome began to fade into history.  Some 600 years later, the Christians in Philadelphia were steadfast in the face of the onslaught of the Turks and Islam and build a huge basilica style church.  Philadelphia remained a free Christian city until well into the fourteenth century.  Finally, even after the Turks overwhelmed the city, their faith and their church continued.  Even now there is a Christian congregation descended from the original congregation in Philadelphia that still honors the name of Jesus.  And of all the ancient ruins of the old city of Philadelphia the only things left standing after 1400 years of Muslim persecution and earthquakes are the two great pillars of the great church that stood there. It is as if Jesus’ words here have become a prophecy of sorts, “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it,” (Rev 3:12a).

Jesus expected the Christians in Philadelphia to do great things.  Those expectations were fulfilled not because of their strength but because of His.  Just as Jesus kept them, He will keep you strong in faith and love. In Baptism you were named God’s child. Your name is written in the Book of Life. The promise of Jesus for you, and all who overcome, is that your names will be engraved on the pillars of the temple in heaven. Indeed, you will be the temple and Jesus Himself will live among you. It will not be a temple unlike those here on earth, which are destroyed every few centuries by earthquakes. It will be a temple that lasts forever, safe from every enemy. This is Jesus’ promise to you.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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Sermon for Lent 5, John 11:1-45

April 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2011

26 Sermon for Lent 5 mp3 audio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading for today, the raising of Lazarus.  In John’s Gospel, this is it.  This is the event that starts the chain of events that lead to Jesus arrest and crucifixion.  It’s the last of what John calls signs.  The first was changing water into wine, this is the last sign.  Jesus has power and authority over death itself.  We went from Jesus caring about the host running out of wine at a wedding to victory over death—that’s a pretty broad range of cares for Jesus.  In between, of course there were other signs.  It was the signs Jesus di that led Nicodemus to visit Jesus one night and ask about being born again.  But it’s in chapter four that John records the second sign, the healing of an official’s son.  Jesus has to feed the five thousand because that many are following after him because of the signs he does.  “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (Jn 6:14) And last Sunday we watched as Jesus healed the man born blind.   All of these signs Jesus did so that those who saw them and those who heard of them might believe that He was the One who was sent, the Christ.  The raising of Lazarus is the last of Jesus’ signs.  There is a climax here at the end of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus brings life and therefore His final clash with the authorities in Jerusalem is more than just differing theological opinions but rather truth versus lie and life versus death itself.

Lazarus is seriously ill.  In response, Jesus says that this illness will not end in death.  But rather Jesus says, “[i]t is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  Jesus said that Lazarus’ illness wouldn’t end in death but Lazarus dies.  So what gives?  We are now even closer to the glory of God and His Son than we were last week at the healing of the man born blind for we are just a matter of days away from the lifting up of the Son of Man on the cross where he will be glorified.  But it’s precisely through the death on the cross and His resurrection that Jesus is glorified.

Caught up in all of this is that Jesus and the disciples knew that returning to Judea would be a very dangerous undertaking.  The last time they were all there was back in the last chapter.  Jesus was almost stoned (10:31).  Jesus knew going back there meant walking into certain danger.  But it’s because Jesus loved Lazarus that he’s willing to go into certain danger to see to him.

Jesus knows that His friend has “fallen asleep.”  Throughout the NT, death is often pictured in this way but not so in the ancient world.  Death was a grim adversary feared by all.  Jesus changes all that by His resurrection.  For those who follow after Jesus, death is no longer a hateful foe that couldn’t be resisted.  Death is now no more than sleep.  Even though the disciples misunderstood, Jesus has spoken plainly and then even more plainly.  “Lazarus is dead.”  There is no doubt.

Plainly, Jesus says, “for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.”  These disciples have already left all to follow Him.  In what sense are they not already “believers”?  And yet at the critical moment they will desert Him.  Faith in Jesus grows and deepens with ever new depths to be plumbed.  We can have saving faith without ever having heard the story of Lazarus being raised but having heard it how can we say our understanding has not grown and been strengthened in Jesus’ display of authority and power over death itself?  Just as the raising of Lazarus had a profound effect on the faith of the disciples, so it has on us.

Doubting Thomas is not so unsure in this episode.  “Let us go that we may die with Him.”  It sounds like a line stolen from Peter.  Thomas knew what awaited them all in Judea should they ever show their faces there again.  And yet, it’s gloomy.   Thomas cannot see anything but honorable defeat in Judea.  Still, they are brave words.  Thomas looked at death in the face and chose to face death with Jesus rather than life without Him.

It’s an interesting thing.  There are some churches that have graveyards and there are some churches that would never have grave yards.  Television ministries don’t have graveyards.  Lutherans are certainly a bunch that do have them.  There is a great deal more to church cemeteries than just the respectful care for the saints who have gone before us.  We believe as we confess with our mouths in “the resurrection of the body.”  It matters that Lazarus came out.  It matters that Jesus rose from the dead.  Luther once said, “The cemetery or burial ground does not indicate a heap of the dead, but a field full of kernels, known as God’s kernels, which will verdantly blossom forth again and grow more beautifully than can be imagined.” (AE 28:178)  And so in an ancient prophecy from a very strange book of prophecies we have Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones.  What initially began as a prophecy that Israel would be resurrected from the exile of Babylonian captivity has a second and even more profound meaning—God will one day raise all the dead and breathe into them life again.  This is the power of the one who is the resurrection and life, he can say to Lazarus, “Come out!” and He does.  On the Last Day, those whom we have buried there will come up out of the ground and be caught up with us as we meet the risen Lord who has given us all victory over the grave.  And so it will be on Holy Saturday evening at the beginning of the Easter Vigil that we will begin outside and in the graveyard and strike the new fire and light the candles and proclaim Him who is the resurrection and the life.  We will celebrate and proclaim the resurrection even if we are still overcome at the loss of people very dear to us, even if we ourselves are in midst of the pain and grief of our loss and we begin to doubt the blossoming of all the seeds we’ve planted six feet down into the ground.  Because the only answer that is true is to stand with believing Thomas and say the words that sound brave and ultimately trust in Jesus alone even if it might mean death.

But of course, it doesn’t.  Now, thanks to Jesus, it’s just a short nap.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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Sermon for Lent 4 -Vespers

April 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Note: parts of this sermon were adapted from Revelation for Lent, published by CPH in 2006.

25 Sermon for Lent 4 – Vespers mp3 audio

The Letter to Sardis: Lethargy—Slow Death

Isaiah 29:13–16; Revelation 3:1–6; Matthew 24:42–51

Theme Verse

Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of My God.  (Revelation 3:2)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The letter for the church in Sardis was written by John but spoken by Jesus Himself.  He speaks to them and to us.  Wake up and take notice!  Remain alert with a watchfulness that translates into devotion and good deeds—things we have been lacking.

Jesus speaks to the Christians at Sardis to give them a wake-up call.  They seem to have become complacent, lazy, lethargic.  Their faith could be likened to the history of the city: Sardis, once glorious and wealthy, was, by the time of this letter, a poor backwater town, ignored by those in power.  Like Thyatira, it was a working class city filled with hardworking people making beautiful cloth and jewelry, but things in Sardis were in a state of cultural and economic decline.  Croesus, who in his day was the richest king in the world and whose palace once graced the city, would hardly recognize Sardis now.

Nor would the apostles have recognized the faith of the Christians in Sardis.  The apostles—all of whom but John have been martyred for Christ—died rather than compromise the truth of the Gospel.  But the Christians in Sardis have chosen an easy faith and an easy morality in order to fit in with the pagans around them, becoming barely identifiable as Christians.  There was in the city and in the area around Sardis the home of an ancient Greek mystery religion, the cult of Cybele.  At one point her temple was destroyed and a temple to Artemis was built in its place, but to most folks, Cybele and Artemis were one and the same.

This kind of thing crept into the church too.  The Christians in Sardis, thinking like their pagan neighbors probably saw the strong resemblance between Cybele, the mother goddess, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and I think it affected how they thought about God and the truth of the teaching of the apostles.  Cybele was the mother of the god Attis.  This is not all that different from the teaching that Mary was the mother of the God-man, Jesus.  Therefore, they thought, Mary should be worshiped as a goddess.  Attis was supposed to have killed himself and been resurrected which is not all that different they might think, from Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Cybele and Attis had sacrificial meals in their honor; so does Jesus.  The resurrection of Attis was celebrated in the spring; so is the resurrection of Jesus.  It can really be easy to think that it’s all the same.  And that leads to the idea of relativism and so one person follows this god, another that god, but each path has the same goal: eternal life with the god of one’s choosing.  If you think this cannot happen today, let me remind you that of all the Christian churches in the world there are only two who are still do missionary work based on the idea that people are dying without knowing about Jesus:  us and the Southern Baptist Convention.  If all moral paths lead to heaven, no wonder people have lost their zeal for Christ.  No wonder we care so little whether our neighbor has heard of Jesus, of His life and death for sinners.  No wonder we have lost our sense of urgency, the fire in your hearts for a holy life and the conversion of our friends and relatives.

These ideas are not new.  The history of religions people have been talking about the similarities for ages.  But it never occurs to them that the superficial resemblances between the cult of Cybele and the faith of Christ are more than just one religion borrowing from another and are instead intentional deceptions of the devil.  I’m not using the devil as a boogeyman here.  As we saw back at the beginning of Lent, the devil is real and he is engaged in tempting people away from the truth of Christ.  And so isn’t it odd that historically, just when the Good News of salvation in Jesus was being proclaimed everywhere, all these mystery religions have a resurgence in popularity and claim to offer the same benefits? Just a few years into the future from the writing of this letter to the Church in Sardis, the Church Father Tertullian will say that Satan is the author of these deceptions, and he will be right.

I’ve said in these Lenten sermons that we can directly apply much of what we read as a letter to the Christians in Sardis to ourselves.  So, I say to you, have we allowed some of the thoughts of the word to creep in and reshape what we believe?  I meet people all the time who say, and they seem to take great pride in saying this, “I’m a Christian but I don’t believe much of what churches teach.”  Now that I’m a little older I’ve had a little more success in saying, “So how is it that you think can deny major teachings of the Christian Church and still claim to be a Christian?  It sounds like you’re something a lot closer to a Deist, which, by the way, is not Christian.”  Has your Sunday School faith failed to thrive in a world where the attacks on the truth of Scripture and the teachings of Christ are everywhere?  Are you really more of a Deist?  Jesus has a bracing word of cold water for you, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of My God,” says your Lord.  “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent” (Revelation 3:2–3).

I have to tell you, as a Christian and as a pastor in the Lord’s Church, I am unsatisfied with a great deal of what passes today for a Christian life.  Sporadic church attendance if at all, a nonexistent prayer life outside of church, children who are not taught to even say grace at the table much less the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, no family devotion times.  No thought towards baptismal life.  Communion at the Lord’s Table is merely an add-on to the Divine Service and best avoided because it makes the service go long.  And what has the church done over the years?  Tried to accommodate these folks!?!  And so the services get less frequent, chopped up and the sermons become sermonettes, the whole time preferring something vaguely “spiritual” over the revealed holiness of God.  And how does it that attitude bred in these kinds of services affect the rest of the life of the church?  Doctrine is not taught.  Confirmation instruction is done over a weekend retreat.  Adult instruction is done on a Saturday morning.  Anyone can be a baptismal sponsor.  Church discipline is non-existent.  We value too lightly what we receive too easily.  This is the Christian religion lowered to the point where it is just barely Christian.  An equivalent would be what has happened to food and cooking.  Most food we eat today is fast food.  You may have heard of the slow food movement.  These are people who are concerned about what it does to us as a people that we would rather just grab something to eat and eat it by ourselves in our cars rather than dine together.  I’m so glad we meet together during Lent and eat together and talk like people.  So, yes, I’m a proud member of the slow church movement.  Because there is no such thing as fast faith.  Faith, grows and develops and matures and ripens.  And so the Christian faith is not just something we do on Sunday for as short a time as possible before the race starts.

The Christian life today is not so much a life based on faith but rather habit and culture.  And what we have is what we have inherited.  Look around.  Where are the people of this congregation in this season of preparation and fasting for Easter.  And just because we’re here, doesn’t mean we’re here.  The body might be here but the mind might be far away worried about how to get it all done.  The yard needs mowing, the house needs painting and the groceries need to be picked up.  That’s my list.  Next Sunday, look around and find for me the next generation of Augustana.  Where are they and why are they not here?  Can we honestly say that they’re not here because we didn’t water the faith down enough for them we didn’t make it relevant enough for them?  Or rather did we do or say or model for them over the course of their upbringing that church was really necessary and therefore not necessarily where God was?  This is not just you; this is a problem with the wider church, with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and with the Christian Church broadly speaking throughout the United States.  And the answer from many of our church leaders for a generation has been to make the message accessible and make it relevant because we’ve got to reach these people.  We may very well have reached them but what have we reached them with?  The church today is statistically the same from those who are unchurched.  That is we have the same statistical rates for all of society’s ills as does the wider society.  If the Christian church is going to impact society in a positive way ever again, it will begin by getting our own house in order, getting serious about hearing God’s Word and obeying it.

I have to tell you, this is personal for me.  I’m not happy with my own prayer life.  I struggle with the discipline it takes to wrestle myself into a place to be still and quiet and listen to God in His Word and say to Him all my needs.  But here’s the thing, we don’t solve the problem by saying, “Hey, we live in grace; we don’t have to do that so stop beating yourself up over it.”  That can so easily lead to a callous attitude towards God’s Word and the word He has set before us to do.  No, every word of the Scripture remains in full force; Jesus came not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.  We need to understand it far better than we do, far better than I currently do, if we are to understand and grasp the more firmly the gift we have been given in Christ.  We need to stop settling for a lowest common denominator brand of Christianity.  And this is why, because of the great gift of God’s Gospel is Jesus Christ.  “Remember therefore what you have received and heard; obey it and repent.”

The Lord Christ is jealous for you because He has invested Himself in you.  In the agonies of the cross, He spent His life’s blood for you.  He gave His life to forgive your sins.  He rose again to give you new life in Him.  He will not share you with another.  Jesus is yours, and you are His.  Now, in Jesus, you stand before God as innocent and undefiled as He is.  Of course, you are sinners, but God has declared you righteous because of Jesus, who was innocent but was declared guilty for the purpose of your redemption.  All your sins are now washed away, including the ones of which I admonish you.  So wake up, I say.  Welcome the Holy Spirit of God that stirs the flame of faith within you, and put away these evil things.  This is the will of God.  If you ask for His help, He will give it to you.  He will enable you to repent, to put away false doctrine, and to turn to Him in faith and love.  Alive by His grace alone, you will eat at the Lord’s Table, receiving His body and blood.  You will not eat at the table of Cybele, the table of demons.  By grace, you received in Baptism a new life of righteousness in Christ and rejected the false and immoral values of the world.  Christ will not share you with another.

What does a Christian life built on this foundation look like?  Well, I shared with the Sunday Bible class a quote from Richard John Neuhaus.

[T]he churches, and Lutherans in particular, need to find fresh ways to proclaim the sacramental and communal nature of Christian existence.  The sad truth is that many, if not most, of our Lutheran people believe that a personal relationship with Jesus is what really constitutes being a Christian, with Baptism, Eucharist, Confession and Absolution as perhaps helpful addenda.  The idea that being a Christian means most essentially sacramental incorporation into the Body of Christ and discipleship in a committed community is, let us admit it, frequently absent from Lutheran piety.

What would our congregational life look like if everything we did proclaimed the sacramental and communal nature of what it means to be a Christian?  Well I can tell you, the previous pastor here, Pastor Wandrey, as much as I may disagree with him in other matters, he led you all in a giant leap toward it by re-establishing the practice of having the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day.  I say re-establishing not because at one time you used to do it, but because for about 1600 to 1700 years that was the practice of the Christian Church.  He merely went back to the practice of the Early Church and to Luther and the Lutheran reformers.  It’s hard to be in a sacramental life together if you don’t have the sacrament as the center and focus of what you do.  Another thing is that for the most part, baptisms here are celebrated in the regular Divine Service.  When one is baptized, one is brought into the Church and is given a place around the altar.  What I am still working on is getting Christian instruction to first prepare a person to be a part of a sacramental community and then reinforce and strengthen their participation in it.  We’ve got to think in these terms about everything we do together.  What we still need to do is restore opportunity for regular private Confession and Absolution, not like you see in the movies, but as our Lutheran Confessions describe it and as the Lutheran reformers practiced it.  All these things we have been given.

And another area we need to be more intentional about is acts of mercy.  We do them and we do bunch of them but we need to have a place for all to be a part of them and we need to make it clear that engaging in acts of mercy is just as important as any other aspect of being a Christian.  Some of these things I’m not entirely sure how to do because I was not shown how to do them.  We will have to figure how best to do them together because we are a community.  The church is a community in which Jesus Christ works in His sacraments to bless us and strengthen us for the work we are given to do in this world.  That is a completely different vision of the church than the place where I can find a place to get me what’s mine, after all it’s only about my personal relationship with Jesus.

And we will know that the attitude about church has changed here and in the wider church when the announcement that Lent is beginning actually means something to people.  When the beginning of Lent is more important to Christians than opening day for baseball, when Lent is seen as more than just “extra church.”  Then we will have begun to turn the corner.

Jesus says it’s time to wake up.  “If you do not wake up,” says Jesus, “I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” (Revelation 3:3).  The day of Jesus’ coming is known only in heaven, but it will be soon, very soon.  By faith you will be among that blessed company that is “dressed in white” and walks with Jesus, the company of those made “worthy” by faith.  To be ready is to believe in Christ and to act on the basis of that belief.  Yes, it is difficult to go against the world and the culture of the world that has crept into the church, doing and believing what is right, standing up for truth when so few stand with you.  Jesus and the blood of the martyrs can attest to how difficult this is.  But Jesus promises that He will help you.  He will give you every gift of His sevenfold Spirit.  He will enable you to join with Him in heaven’s victory celebration.  “Wake up! Strengthen what remains.  Remember what you have received, (Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Absolution).  Obey .  .  .  Repent” (Revelation 3:2–3).  This is exactly what I am confident you will do.  The Lord did not shed His blood for you for nothing.  By grace, you will heed His Word.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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Sermon for Lent 4 — Isaiah 42:14-21

April 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2011

24 Sermon for Lent 4 mp3 audio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon today is the Old Testament reading for today from Isaiah chapter 42.

This is an interesting reading especially when paired up with the Gospel reading.  It begins with the Lord speaking.  “For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself.”  It’s not really a picture of God we have in our minds, God as the strong and silent type.  But since the beginning, since He called Israel to be His own, He has watched them twist and rebel against him like a fish on a line.  After He delivered them safely out of Egypt, He watched them make a golden calf.  After He delivered them safely into the Promised, He watched them form a kingdom of their own and relegate their Lord the King to a position equal to the idols they would make with their hands.  But the time has arrived when He will not remain silent any longer.  He was not silent all those years because He did not care but because of His great love.  It has been difficult to restrain Himself.  But now, “I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant.”  Again this is not the image we would easily apply to God but here He applies it to Himself.  He longs to deliver His own.  The time for action has arrived.  “[This is] some great thing with which Jehovah has, as it were, long been pregnant, is now about to be born.” (Young, 129)

In verse 15, the Lord goes on to describe this as a complete reversal of nature as we have come to know it.  The highest mountains He will make low and the rivers He will dry up and expose their islands.  God does it to prove His point.  The change continues in verse 16.  The change is so radical, even the blind will go on a way they do not know.  That the blind are thus able to act contrary to their physical condition is due solely to the sovereign work of God, “I shall cause to go… and I shall guide them.”  God removes the darkness so that it is light and God makes the rough places smooth so that the journey is made easier.  This is a metaphor for the work of God in conversion.  It is He who works the redemption.  “I have done for them,” says the Lord.  In His final line, God puts those to shame who believe chunks of metal to be Gods.

God’s work here is complete.

The Old Testament Readings can be harder for us to understand.  We are separated from the world Jesus knew by two thousand years and by great differences in cultural and society.  The years really add up when the readings are from the Old Testament and we do not immediately know what’s being spoken of or prophesied.  The broader context of chapter 42 is that it is one of the Servant Songs, one of the passages that describe the Lord’s perfect servant who will come to serve and redeem His people.  Christians derive a great deal of our understanding about who Jesus is and what He does, not from the New Testament as much as from the Old Testament and from passages like the Servant Songs in Isaiah.  The chapter starts out, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.  2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.”  (Is 42:1–3)   It sounds like the Lord is talking about Jesus.  He is!  This speech becomes a song by verse 10.  “Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise from the end of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants. 11 Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar inhabits; let the habitants of Sela sing for joy, let them shout from the top of the mountains.  12 Let them give glory to the LORD, and declare his praise in the coastlands.” (Is 42:10–12)  Why this great song?  Because the Lord will no longer hold His peace.  The creation as we have come to know will be reordered.  The mountains made low and the rivers dried up and the blind see, because the Lord is sending His faith Servant.

If today’s service were a musical or maybe even an opera, the Old Testament reading would be sung by the narrator explaining why Jesus is healing the man born blind today.  It’s about God no longer restraining Himself but crying out to do this great thing and fix what is broken in the world through Jesus.

But there is something of the Jews in us too, those who simply could not understand how God could permit someone to heal on the Sabbath.  The blind man teaches them.  “This is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (Jn 9:30–33)

In the same way, Isaiah now addresses the people of Israel in verse 18.  Listen, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see!”  (v. 18)  Repent!  Hear what it is you really need to hear instead of what you want to hear.  The task of all people before God is to repent, especially now the blind who are unable to see God.  These are not just physical conditions, but spiritual blindness and deafness; they lost and condemned creatures.  If Israel would but turn from her deafness and hear or turn from her blindness and see, she would be spared the judgment.  But she cannot.  It there is to be redemption it will be a work of sovereign grace alone.  More than a mere opening of the eyes is needed’ there must be looking to see what needs to be seen.  Servant Israel is blind.

The irony is that of all the peoples of the earth, Israel should be able to see the most clearly, yet they are the most blind, they who were rescued by God through the Red Sea, they who were delivered into the Promised Land and able to conquer the local Canaanite kings.  Israel should not be blind but she is and therefore does not fulfill the necessary requirements for being the Lord’s servant.  He must send His own and He does!

Let Israel be as blind and deaf as she will, the Lord intends to act.  “The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious.” (v. 21) For the sake of Himself and His mercy, He will make plain the Law in the body of His own Servant, the Son, Jesus Christ.  Israel’s condition stands in stark opposition to the beauty and purity of God’s Law.  In her rebellion, Israel despised God’s Law, but it is God’s intention to carry out His purposes.  He will magnify His Law so that all the world will see the glory and honor of His truth and authority.  The Lord Himself will see that the Law is obeyed and completed thereby showing Himself to be glorious and honorable.  And so when is God’s Law glorified and fully explained but at the cross of Jesus?

So it was then that when the Servant came, He said about the man born blind, he was born blind “that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  And so it was that the truly blind did not understand what the Servant did.  “Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”  (Jn 9:16-17)  The blind man can see with more than his eyes just as Isaiah foretold.

Today we can see Jesus in action healing the man born blind, serving as the Lord faithful Servant, fulfilling His God’s Law and even glorifying God in the fulfillment of it.  To this day there are many like the Pharisees here who stare at Jesus actions like a cow staring a new gate.  And then there are others who can truly see.  God bless you richly as you see again what our Lord has done through His servant Jesus Christ for all creation and for you.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

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April 4, 2011 Leave a comment
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